Thursday, December 17, 2009


Homer Simpson is article of the day on English-language Wikipedia twenty years to the day the first full-length episode was broadcast.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New UK Space Agency

The UK will have a new space agency, though the model has yet to be decided.

Why Human Rights Matter

61 years ago today the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Slightly over three years earlier, the Allies had liberated Europe, including the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau.

Nowadays, it's not unusual to hear someone mocking human rights legislation, perhaps agreeing with Gene Hunt that "Human rights are for human beings". Certainly it's sickening to see a criminal who's gamed the system to get off scott-free or with a light sentence, but we must be beware getting rid of something we only miss when it's gone.

Even without genocide there are the horrors of the industrial school system in Ireland (which was seen as a system for reforming children with criminal pasts - only 6% were in the system for that reason), the migration of children to Australia, (many were told their families were dead) and human trafficking, such as that carried out by snakeheads (those who died in the Morcambe Bay disaster had been trafficked.

But the truth is that any one of us has the capacity to behave barbarically - either deliberately out of prejudice, pettiness or unaware as those who thought the industrial schools were doing good. We can all help or harm - try to keep an open mind, understand how society works - both our own and others and try to strengthen transparency, accountability and democracy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mental reservation

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics."

George Orwell, Politics and the English language

In yesterdays' publication of the Murphy Report there is an interesting phrase: mental reservation

Cardinal Connell explained the concept
of mental reservation to the Commission
in the following way:

Well, the general teaching about mental reservation
is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the
other hand, you may be put in a position where
you have to answer, and there may be circumstances
in which you can use an ambiguous expression
realising that the person who you are talking
to will accept an untrue version of whatever it
may be - permitting that to happen, not willing
that it happened, that would be lying. It really
is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily
difficult matters that may arise in social relations
where people may ask questions that you simply
cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind
of thing is liable to happen. So, mental reservation
is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.

Murphy Report, Part 2, section 58.20

In plain English - lying. I'm not going to argue that nobody should ever lie, we all know there are times when a lie can save someone's life or save them from a beating. What's really disturbing is that this fancy phrase involves lying to yourself about what you're doing - it makes your thinking muddy so that you don't even realise you're lying.

It's a lot like Newspeak. The scary thing
is that is for real - this was a doctrine of the Catholic Church that enabled abuse to happen.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The 64th anniversary

On 6 August 1945 the US military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing approximately 140,000.

The morality of this has been debated ever since, with one side claiming more lives would be lost in an invasion of Japan. (Why a demonstration in sight of the Japanese mainland wasn't an option puzzles me.)

The debate will probably continue.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Down with this sort of thing

Dermot Ahern has managed to make a holy show of himself. (Now I'll have offended the Dermotologists, who will no doubt accuse me of blasphemy.)

Dermot Aherns' explanation didn't convince Padraig Reilly who pointed out, quite reasonably, that as there is already a referendum for the Lisbon Treaty this year, why not have the referendum on blasphemy on the same day?

The creators of Father Ted back a challenge and they've parodied opponents to blasphemy before.

Stephen Fry has condemned it too.

From the legal angle: Eoin O'Dell argues it clashes with the Constitution while Pure Hearsay disagrees.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

40 years ago today

At 02:39 UTC 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch on the Eagle lander, began his descent at 02:51. He deployed the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly and activated a TV camera by pulling on a D-ring. At 02:56 he set his left foot on the surface of the Moon.
That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

Buzz Aldrin joined him and described the view as
Magnificent desolation.

Friday, March 27, 2009

An Taoiseach, this is called the Streisand Effect

From Bath to Cork with Baby Grace responds to Mr. Michael Kennedy TDs objections.

Eoin O'Dell has a comprehensive list of the coverage.

At least BIFFO will have an idea of what the Streisand Effect is.

Pat Kenny - Breaking News

This from Shane Hegarty on Twitter - Pat Kenny will leave the The Late Late show.

Update:Irish Times also covers it.

BIFFOs defender

By now, the world, his dog and the cat that owns them both knows about the nude portraits of Brian Cowen.

Eoin O'Dell has written an excellent article on the legal matters involved.

John Waters has commented on the scandal and, not surprisingly, has condemned the paintings.

Waters wrote:
The only amusing thing here is Casby’s deluded belief that he has something to say. His response is typical of a public discourse almost fatally degraded by internet auto-eroticism and an obsession with what is called “comedy”. His works are crude, unfunny, vindictive, without intrinsic content and wholly lacking in artistic merit.

He also wrote:
The internet has reduced public debate to the level of a drunken argument, in which no holds are barred, in which deeply unpleasant people get to voice their ignorant opinions in the ugliest terms, in the name of “free speech”. The idea that we all need “a laugh” has allowed the “joke” to become elevated beyond everything. Nobody may object if others have declared something “funny”.

The internet has little or nothing to do with this story, but John Waters can't resist taking a swipe at it. Disturbingly, he doesn't mention that the Gardai are involved. (Are crime levels so low they can afford to investigate this?)

However, John Waters also says:
What is so important about people being enabled to indulge themselves in nervous spasms triggered by, for example, cultural incongruities, that all other criteria – good taste, decency, human dignity – must be jettisoned? Much of what is now called humour is bullying, picking on an individual or group for a cheap guffaw. Anyone who doesn’t think this hilarious has “no sense of humour” – than which no more serious indictment is possible.

Now bullying is a serious matter - but if putting these paintings into an art gallery is bullying, what is having the artist questioned by police?

Waters looks up to Brian Cowen as a father figure.

He cites John LLoyd:
In his 2004 book What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics , author John Lloyd cited David Steel, the former leader of the British Liberal Party, in his belief that his portrayal in the sketches on Spitting Image destroyed the chances of the then alliance between his party and the Social Democrats replacing the Labour Party as the main party of opposition. Spitting Image invariably showed Steel as the fawning puppet of SDP leader David Owen.

Then continues:
Elaborating on the power of such crude stereotypes, Lloyd wrote: “Once again, choices made by electors were being very substantially altered by media; and because of the nature of the culture which assumed a right to intrude ever more decisively into what had been forbidden territory, not only was nothing being done about it, no serious questions were even being asked about it. Politicians became, in a variety of ways, more and more scorned, and could barely object. The media would not allow it, it had been defined as a joke, millions of people liked it . . . and thus its effects – whatever they are – cannot sensibly be discussed.”

It may seem excessive to credit the squalid affair of the Casby paintings with representing a threat to democracy, but undoubtedly such vacuous interventions are becoming increasingly the norm in a culture valuing far above ideas a propensity for “the craic”.

Spitting Image was immensely popular, but what is John Waters really saying here? Is he accusing the show of being a danger to democracy, and if so, what would he suggest doing about it?

What does this imply for journalists?

Maybe I'm reading too much into what he wrote.

Meanwhile a site selling caracatures of Brian Cowen has stopped selling them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Storey time

Mervyn Storey is getting all hot under the collar about an exhibition about evolution:

However, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called for a creationist exhibition to be run alongside which explains the origin of life according to a literal reading of the Genesis account in the Bible.

“All I’m saying is that there should be a balance because there are other views out there,” Mr Storey said.

“There are people who have a different view to Darwin on creation.”

There are indeed other views, such as the traditional creation myth of the Igluik to pick just one:

Long ago a great catastrophe caused the world's supporting pillars to collapse and destroy the earth. Two men emerged full-grown from hummocks of earth. They married each other, and one became heavy with child. The other man sang a magic song, which caused the pregnant man's penis to divide, he then became a woman and gave birth to a girl child.

Hang on, that probably won't make Mervyn happy as:

  1. It features two men marrying.
  2. One of them has a sex change (performed by the other).
  3. Magic is used.
  4. The now woman gives birth (which probably confuses the hell out of Mervyn).

Oh my, 'tis enough to give the poor wee lamb a case of the fantods!

All of this would be too racy for Mervyn, who is a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, founded by none other than Ian Paisley.

I haven't asked either Mervyn or Ian, but I suspect they would give a resounding "No!!!" to an exhibition featuring that!

Of course, he wants to promote a literal interpretation of Genesis only.

But more of Mervyns' objections:

Mr Storey, himself a proponent of creationism, said that he was entitled to express his views on the subject.

“I believe in creationism and intelligent design, I don’t believe in the theory of evolution”, he said.

Mr Storey also said that a failure by the museum to reflect the views of “other people” could raise the possibility that a legal challenge may be launched under equality legislation.

He's certainly entitled to his views and to express them, but he wants to make the museum run an exhibition promoting his literalist interpretation of Genesis, which is taking it too far.

What's stopping him running his own exhibition in a hall?

He's done this kind of thing before with the Causeway Creation Campaign.

Sadly, he's a chairman of an educational committee.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Todays birthdays

Today is both the double centenary birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.

Orac has an excellent article on evolution and medicine, while Seed magazine has a fine collection of articles.

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States, led his country during the American Civil War and is an inspiration to many, including President Barack Obama, who chose to announce his candidacy for president in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield Illinois, where Lincoln made his "House Divided" speech.